LAHAINA - Returning Maui Interscholastic League All-Stars at nearly every position, including the 2012 "Player of the Year" in the pitching circle, the Lahainaluna High School softball team is poised to continue the championship run that has carried the program to two straight MIL titles and state tournament top four rankings.
Losing only all-star second baseman Brena Nakamura to graduation, the Lady Lunas, guided by reigning MIL "Coach of the Year" Lei Nakamura and her staff of Joe Keanini, Ekolu Wallace and Josh Wallace, have reloaded and strengthened their lineup for the current campaign.
Last season's "Player of the Year" Hope Morikawa returns to the pitching circle with catcher Jessica Wallace behind the plate to form the league's most formidable battery.
The Lady Lunas are off to a 5-0 start. PHOTO BY ART FILLAZAR
With Haley Ann Nakamura at shortstop, Rhyn Lendio at second base and Tobi Bonifacio in center field, the Lady Lunas are rock solid up the middle of their defense.
Lithe Pokipala Waiohu handles the hot corner at third base, Kekuu Haake returns at first, Lyla Talaroc Kaniho is the left fielder and Kaua Arcangel is in right to round out the veteran Lahainaluna lineup.
Rounding out the roster are solid back-ups at every position - most notably Ceidilee Nobriga backing up Morikawa at pitcher, as well as senior Mehana Chang, juniors Janah Pagatpatan and Tracey Panlasigui, sophomore Ariana Badua and freshmen Kaylee Harmon, Mele Pasikala and Asti Arcangel.
Other staff include statistician Audrey Casicas and managers Taylor Asio and Taylor Panlasigui.
Coach Lei credits the Lahaina youth softball program for establishing the pipeline of fundamentally sound athletes that brings success to the high school team.
"All of our players have come up through the youth program in Lahaina," she said. "And this year is the first senior group that has been with our program since the beginning."
"This is a close team - they have a lot of fun together, but they work awfully hard to get better," Nakamura continued.
"Since October, we've emphasized the weight program brought to us by coach Mike Whitehead, and this has helped tremendously with our mechanics. Pitching, fielding, hitting, running the bases - we're getting better and headed in the right direction. We tell the girls to take one game at a time and try to improve by one percent each and every day."
The Lady Lunas are off to a strong start in the current season, rolling to five straight wins approaching the halfway point.
Baldwin is one game behind Lahainaluna, followed by Maui High, Kamehameha Maui and King Kekaulike.
The regular season runs through April 13, followed by the MIL Tournament on April 17-19 at Patsy Mink Field in Kahului.
The HHSAA State Tournament will be held at the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium in Honolulu the following week.
Coach Lei sent her gratitude out to her husband, Flint Nakamura, for keeping the Lady Luna softball field in immaculate condition, and to Athletic Director Scott Soldwisch, Principal Emily DeCosta and Trainers Jon Conrad and Mikala Pino for their support and direction in keeping the program on track.